This Saturday was an interesting one. We had a church yard sale to raise money for our kids ministries as well as to help families in need; it was an absolute TON of work, but was the most successful yard sale that we have ever had as a church. Saturday is also the day that I run long to train for my next half-marathon (June 6th in San Diego!), so I had to work that in to a really busy morning. Running 10 miles gives a man a long time (an hour and 32 minutes in my case!) to think, and as I was running this Saturday a passage that I had taught in Bible class came back to my mind that was very appropriate to my Saturday.
1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
5 For each one will bear his own load.
These verses seem a bit puzzling at first. In verse 2 we are told to “bear one another’s burdens,” while in verse 5 Paul says that “each one will bear his own load.” This passage gives a lot of readers pause, but digging into the words Paul uses brings his purpose clearly to light and has a lot of bearing on our lives today. The word translated “burdens” in verse 2 is used in the New Testament primarily to refer to a weight or a burden that is oppressive; it is too much for a person to bear by themselves! The word translated “load” in verse 5, by contrast, is used in Acts 27:10 of the amount of cargo that a ship could hold. In other words, the “load” is what is manageable or what a person (or in Acts a ship) could reasonably be expected to carry.
On Saturday I had a “burden” that I could never carry on my own. The yard sale was a LOT of work. We had rooms full of stuff to move out to the yard on Saturday morning (I joked that it looked like “The Book of Eli” when we set up), tables to haul out to put stuff on, items to organize, and shoppers to welcome. We had to take money and make change, answer questions, and clean up at the end. Had I tried to do that on my own I would have failed miserably! I needed help; I needed other people from our church to bear that burden with me. We had a big group of people come set up, help all day, and tear down who made the sale a success. It was a burden too heavy for anyone to carry on their own, so we all pitched in and carried it together. Because we did, the yard sale was a huge success.
My run, on the other hand, was a load that only I could bear. Sure, my friends who were at the sale could encourage me and help me get motivated to go. (or they could call me crazy and shake their head in disbelief at me…either way :)) They couldn’t put the miles in for me, though. Only I can put the miles in to get ready for my next half marathon. It’s my “load” in the language of Galatians 6:5, a pack that only I can carry. So about 9AM, after making sure that the sale was going well, I changed into my running gear and ran my long run. 10 miles later I had run a very fast time and came back to finish up the yard sale, feeling great because I hadn’t allowed other activities to get in the way of my needed preparation. I had borne my own load, and that was an accomplishment that I was excited about.
You might be thinking that I have stretched the biblical text a little here. “Wait a minute,” you may have soliloquized, “Galatians is not talking about yard sales or running. It’s talking about sin and reconciliation!” You’re correct…note that I said that my Saturday reminded me of this passage. I had taught it the week before to students at school, and as I ran it came back into my mind. And between the sale and the run, I got to thinking about how this passage really speaks about my spiritual, emotional, and psychological life.
There are some parts of my spiritual life that are too heavy to bear on my own. I need accountability and encouragement and godly friends to help me bear burdens that are too much for me to carry by myself. I’ve said before, for instance, that raising a son today takes others to help. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a great, godly, authentic family in Christ is critical to helping me overcome the sin in my life and in living like today matters for eternity. Many burdens in the Christian life require others to help me lift the weight and carry it awhile with me. Winning people to Christ would never happen in my congregation without many, many people sharing the burden.
At the same time, no one can do the work for me that spiritual growth requires. I can have others pray over me, but if I am not willing to put aside my ego and talk to the God who loved me enough to send His son for me I have no excuse. That is my “load” to carry and God expects me to carry it! I can listen to Bible teachers all day long, but only I can come before God and ask Him to “renew my mind” like Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 and grow in my understanding of God through the Scriptures. I have to put in the devotional time that it takes to see God in my daily life. No one can make me treat my wife and children with respect and love; that is my responsibility. While my community helps me carry those burdens that are too much for me to bear, they cannot and should not excuse me being unwilling to carry the load that I am responsible for.
How big is that load? Well I think it depends. When we are new Christians we have a pretty small ability to carry a load on our own. We need a LOT of help and have very little carrying capacity. As we mature, though, we have to take on our share of the responsibility for our spiritual growth, while not getting egotistical and thinking we can get to the place where we can do it all by ourselves. I see a lot of Christians who are so accustomed to others carrying their load that they get spiritually lazy and refuse to carry that part of the load that is theirs to carry. They get spiritually flabby to the point that they no longer carry any meaningful part of the load on their own. On the other hand, some Christians get prideful that they can handle life without anyone else, so they struggle and fall under burdens impossibly heavy to carry while they are unwilling to ask for help. Both of these extremes are wrong.
So I am renewed to both be a part of a community who can help me bear my burdens, and convicted to carry the load that is mine to carry. My prayer life, my devotional time, my service to Christ and ethics in life are high priorities that no one can do for me! The community of Christians that I am around help me where I am weak and carry those burdens that I can’t, restoring me and forgiving me and living with me.
How about you? Are you carrying your load or making others carry yours and theirs? Are you allowing your family in Christ to share your burdens, or are you playing Lone Ranger and trying to gut it out on your own? Are you doing what Paul commands in Galatians 6 and balancing the two? Where are you out of balance today, and how can you get back in balance?
 It is the Greek word βάρος (baros)
 It is the Greek word φορτίον (phortion)